Dance Workouts: What counts, health benefits, how to get started, and how to get better
To dance, you don’t need to be physically fit. You don’t even have to have a rhythm. Dance workouts can help you build flexibility, coordination, and fitness while dancing to your own beat.
What makes dance a workout?
It doesn’t really matter what type of dance you do (or where you do it), it matters not.
Professionals with fitness expertise may create structured dance classes to provide certain benefits.
Megan Roup, a former professional dancer who is now a certified personal trainer and ACE-certified dance instructor, says that dance cardio should be repetitive and aerobic. She also created The Sculpt Society, a dance cardio app. She adds that even though you are not intending to dance with your friends, it can be fun to get up and move around in your living room.
Many dance classes are meant to increase muscular strength, mobility, flexibility, and muscle strength. Judson MacDonald is an ACE-certified personal trainer in Durham, North Carolina. He is also a Les Mills International learning and development specialist.
If you are just dancing for fun, the benefits may not be as great.
The intensity of your dance workout depends on what type of dance you are doing and how long it has been. According to the National Institutes of Health, slower dance styles such as ballroom dancing are more intense than walking or other moderate-intensity exercises. However, faster dance types like salsa and cardio can be equivalent to a more vigorous exercise like jogging or swimming.
Dance has many health benefits
There are many benefits to dancing for the mind and body.
Roup states that you must use your brain and body to dance. This is especially important when learning choreography or routines. She says, “Your brain must be really focused.”
These are some of the unique benefits that dance can bring to older adults. A meta-analysis and review published in December 2018 by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that dance can improve working memory and cognitive flexibility. This is the ability to adapt to new and changing situations and learn in older adults with different levels of cognitive ability. Research suggests that older adults should dance at a moderate intensity.
People with neurodegenerative conditions may find dancing beneficial. Brain Sciences published research in July 2021 that showed that mild Parkinson’s patients who took part in weekly dance classes for three consecutive years had slower symptoms progression than those who did not.
A Stronger, Fitter Heart
Because dance is aerobic, it can improve cardiovascular health for everyone. A February 2016 study in American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that dancing was more protective than walking and had a lower chance of dying from heart disease.
Improved Bone Density
Dancing is also a weight-bearing exercise that can help build or maintain bone density. A small study of older adults with osteoporosis showed that dancing could even reverse bone loss.
Is it possible to lose weight by dancing?
If weight loss is your goal, all that jumping, twisting and shaking can help you burn calories.
According to Harvard Medical School, dancing can help you burn between 90 and 252 calories per hour. This number will vary depending on what type of dance you choose and how much weight you have. For a person weighing 125 pounds, a slow waltz, foxtrot or slow ballet will burn around 90 calories. A faster dance style such as ballet or twisting will burn about 180 calories.
In a study published in The Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, healthy women consumed an average of 369 calories per hour during a Zumba class that was 40 minutes long.
MacDonald states that although you can lose weight by doing consistent dance workouts and making nutritional adjustments, it is best to consult a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer who can help you incorporate dance workouts (and any other activities) into your overall wellness goals.
How to get started with dance workouts
It’s important to take it slow when you start dancing.
You can modify dance workouts to suit your fitness level and abilities. If you need to, you can even move in a chair. However, it is important to see a healthcare professional if you have an underlying condition such as heart disease or high blood sugar. Samantha Amway, an orthopaedic clinical specialist, is a member of the Ohio State University Wexner Medicine Center in Lewis Center.
Roup recommends that you start small and gradually increase your consistency to make it a regular part of your daily routine. Sometimes, just 10 minutes per day is enough to change how we feel energetically.
You should look for shorter classes that you are able to commit to either in person or online. There are many dance studios near you that offer both virtual and in-person classes. You can also download a dance app and search for dance workouts via platforms such as YouTube.
Roup recommends that you do at least two to three 10- or 15-minute dance sessions per week if you don’t exercise regularly. As you gain strength, endurance and fitness, increase the length of your classes or take on more challenging classes.
Amway states that it is a smart idea to consult a healthcare provider before starting a class if there are any underlying medical conditions, such as high blood pressure (hypertension), or heart-related problems.
How to get more out of your dance workout
When you feel more confident dancing, try increasing the intensity.
Here are some ideas.
Make your movements larger. Once you have mastered the footwork, increase the intensity by focusing more on the other elements of the dance. MacDonald says, “For example, when you do squat moves, how deep are your knees?” “Are you reaching for full extension in arm movements?” Making small adjustments can help increase your range of motion and challenge the control of the muscles that you are using.
Cross-train. Add other exercise modalities to your workout routine. Straightline Dance Fitness’ Molly Breen recommends strength training as well as activities that promote mobility such walking.
For dance workouts, nutrition tips
Before a dance class, you should make carbohydrate the main focus. Kelly Jones, RD is a Philadelphia-based specialist in sports nutrition and owner of Student Athlete Nutrition.
A high-carbohydrate meal with some fiber and moderate fat and protein is a good choice if you are eating before your dance class. Jones suggests making oatmeal with milk and topping it with fruits and nuts or a peanut butter banana sandwich with baby carrots, low-fat milk, and peanut butter.
You can find a high-carb snack that you can consume 20 to 90 minutes before your workout, even if it has been a while since your last meal. Jones recommends a piece of fruit or granola bars, a small bagel or some pretzels.
Take water along with you to the gym and aim for three to four gulps every 15 to 20 min. Jones suggests that you bring a sports drink if your workout lasts more than 60 minutes. This will replenish the carbohydrates, sodium and fluid lost from sweat and intense exercise.